The 7th Saga

King Lemele has summoned seven warriors to his castle to help him search for seven runes scattered throughout the world of Ticondera; the one who holds them all is said to gain unimaginable power, enough to rule the world. The king gives each warrior a crystal ball to help them on their search for the runes; you play the role of one of these heroes, and will interact with the others during your quest, joining them or fighting them for want of the runes. Known as Elnard in Japan, Enix’s The 7th Saga, for the Super NES, came to North America in 1993, and is sure to provide a challenging experience for even the most seasoned RPGamers.

The crystal ball that the king gives you serves several functions. On the overworld, it shows the relative locations of towns and dungeons, and within dungeons, it shows the relative locations of treasure chests; blinking dots indicate one of the seven runes. The ball also shows several white dots moving around, which indicate invisible monsters on the overworld and in dungeons. Coming into contact with these dots, naturally, sparks a battle against up to three enemies. You can recruit only one ally during your quest (which, occasionally, you can change) to help you in battle, so you must choose your companion carefully.

After initiating a battle, players can freely choose which of their two characters can take their turn first, with his or her command executing immediately after the player inputs it. Then, unless the enemy gets a turn, the player can input a command for the other character, who too executes his or her command immediately. After both characters have executed their commands (and with enemies carrying out their own commands, as well), the player can again freely choose which character takes his or her turn. Commands include attacking, defending, using magic, using items, checking a character’s status, or escaping.

Defending, in addition to temporarily increasing a character’s defense, also increases that character’s attack power for his or her next turn, and is, in many instances, a key to victory against the most difficult battles. Stat-increasing spells, too, are a key to victory in most battles, given that enemies throughout the game can kill you very easily. The 7th Saga is, I should mention, perhaps the hardest RPG I’ve ever played. You will die. A lot. There will be many times where you’ll find it absolutely impossible to advance through the game without spending endless hours leveling.

Thankfully, the runes you acquire throughout the game can help a little, being reusable and having useful effects such as HP or MP recovery and stat increases. Moreover, you might occasionally need to fight one of the seven warriors mentioned above for the runes, with battles against them being one-on-one, and your opponent being the same level as you. Sounds like a fair battle, right? Nothing could be further from the truth; your opponent, regardless of his or her class, can kill you very easily, although stat-boosting spells, coupled with a little bit of luck, can help lead to victory. If you die in these battles, your opponent steals all your runes, which is where the reset button comes in handy.

Towards the end of the game, unfortunately, you lose access to the runes, spiking the difficulty further. Battles, too, despite their apparent simplicity, can frequently drag out, given the constant need to use stat-boosting magic and defend to boost attack power, not to mention that nearly every enemy has healing magic, which can drag out fights even further. Thankfully, if you die, you revive at an inn with half your money lost. Players, though, can buy gems from shops that sell for their purchasing price, which somewhat compensates the money loss from death. Still, the tendency of even simple battles to drag out, not to mention the somewhat-insane difficulty, can easily make the combat system lose its appeal.

The interface, too, could’ve used some improvement, not that it’s without redeeming aspects. The menu system, for one, is fairly simple, albeit without item or spell descriptions, and your crystal ball, not to mention a world map acquirable early on, can keep you moving in the right direction. Merchants, too, warn players when they’re about to purchase equipment that drops their characters’ stats. Ironically, the biggest flaw of the interface comes in a seemingly minor aspect: players can’t buy or sell items in bulk, and merchants bombard you relentlessly with dialogue, which adds unnecessary time to shopping. The developers could’ve also easily replaced the mentioned gem system with a simpler bank system, thus saving the time and annoyance of selling gems when in need of money, as well. All in all, The 7th Saga proves that even little things can greatly burden a player’s experience when interacting with an RPG.

Still, The 7th Saga certainly deserves some credit for originality. Its encounter system is easily one-of-a-kind, and it was one of the sole RPGs in its time to feature seven different playable protagonists. Moreover, the battle system, while loosely reminiscent of that in Final Fantasy Mystic Quest (albeit much harder), has some minor innovations, such as increased attack power with defense. The challenge itself, finally, helps make The 7th Saga a distinct experience.

The story, unfortunately, doesn’t really help enhance the player’s experience. All seven warriors, aside from their classes and abilities, are utterly forgettable, and even the backstory is weak. There’s maybe one small twist, although what little plot exists is far too sporadic (merchants wind up having far more dialogue), and the ending, in spite of the difficulty of finishing the game, will certainly make players groan. Plot-driven RPGs were on the rise during the game’s time, so there’s little excuse as to why The 7th Saga didn’t ride this wave.

The game’s soundtrack, however, is far more passable. There are a few nice pieces, although their instrumentation leaves something to desire. Sound effects are alright, though, even if scarce, and in the end, the aurals in The 7th Saga hardly detract from the player’s experience.

For a game released in 1993, The 7th Saga’s visuals were surprisingly decent. Character sprites are anatomically correct, even if a bit lacking in facial features and expression, and the scenery, while slightly repetitive at times, is more than adequate. The battle visuals shine the most, though, with both player and enemy parties being visible and animate, even if the latter side consists of many palette swaps. Overall, the graphics are perhaps the game’s high point.

Finally, given the degree of leveling up and endless deaths, players will find themselves occupied with the game for a good forty-five to sixty hours. Ultimately, The 7th Saga is a deeply-flawed RPG that suffers especially from a simplistic yet often tedious battle system and unengaging storyline; even so, the game would receive a pseudo-sequel called Mystic Ark, which wouldn’t see the light of day beyond Japan. Only the most masochistic RPGamers will find something to celebrate here, while the mainstream crowd will likely want to look elsewhere for entertainment.

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